Will there be “Torrance Kids” in the future? Or will we have killed Creativity?

I read a really interesting article about Creativity in Newsweek a few weeks ago, the key thread being that the US had become less creative. How did they come to that conclusion you might ask?  Well, here are the key points made in the article.

Back in 1958 in Minneapolis there were a group of 400 kids who took the Torrance Creativity Test, they were known as the “Torrance Kids”.

The accepted definition of creativity was “production of something original and useful”, and that’s what’s reflected in the tests.

In the 50 years since the others took their tests, scholars—first led by Torrance, now his colleague, Garnet Millar—have been tracking the children, recording every patent earned, every business founded, every research paper published, and every grant awarded.

Torrance’s tasks, have become the gold standard in creativity assessment. What’s shocking is how incredibly well Torrance’s creativity index predicted those 400 kids’ creative accomplishments as adults. Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance’s tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, software developers etc.

Torrance’s test is a 90-minute series of discrete tasks, administered by a psychologist and has been taken by millions worldwide in 50 languages. Here are the 4 criteria:

  • Fluency. The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.
  • Flexibility. The number of different categories of relevant responses.
  • Originality. The statistical rarity of the responses.
  • Elaboration. The amount of detail in the responses.

Enriched environments make kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified for the first time: American creativity scores are falling.

Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults that creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. But since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”

One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing video games rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools.

A recent survey of US CEO’s found that they think Creativity will be the number one leadership competency in the future. And this type of creativity is not restricted to companies, but to “how to plug the oil spill” for example.

Around the world, other countries are making creativity development a national priority. In 2008 British secondary-school curricula—from science to foreign language—was revamped to emphasize idea generation, and pilot programs have begun using Torrance’s test to assess their progress.

The European Union designated 2009 as the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, holding conferences on the neuroscience of creativity, financing teacher training, and instituting problem-based learning programmes—curricula driven by real-world inquiry—for both children and adults.

In China there has been widespread education reform to extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style. Instead, Chinese schools are also adopting a problem-based learning approach.

American teachers warn there’s no room in the day for a creativity class. Kids are fortunate if they get an art class once or twice a week.

Researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into home. The argument that we can’t teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false trade-off. Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process.

Living in France, the one thing that I fear the most for my children, is the rigidity of the schooling system. At primary school, they are taught like parrots to remember important dates, places, etc., without having had a creative, engaging introduction to the subject they are learning parrot fashion. When I have asked them what they have learnt about the said person or happening, they don’t have a general overview, just the key facts. So, they don’t really know why they have learnt that subject and the significance of it.

In England, I am not saying that the teaching is brilliant either. But I do remember it being far more creative. I was working with a class (as us parents were allowed to do in the UK) who were learning about the Romans, after an introduction to the Roman Empire, the key people, the key inventions and their importance in historical: innovative, political and social terms, the children first set about making roman coins and discussed the monetary system. then they dressed up as Romans, then they cooked a “roman meal” and ate it at lunchtime. This I would call a creative approach. This I believe the children would remember, not just because of the subject matter, but because of the total immersion in the subject, This I believe, is the way to teach. To engage. To create. To be immersed in all senses. To walk in other’s shoes (a very well-known creative exercise). It takes no longer than the French approach (photocopies, maps on blackboards, handouts, homework), but I believe that the children and teacher’s also benefit from an exercise like this, psychologically. It brings them together to experience a particular place and time: it also breaks down barriers, which is sometimes necessary when teaching.

As a teacher of creativity in French “Grand Ecoles” and Business Schools, I have found that French students generally, have great difficulty in forgetting the rigidity of the ways they have been taught in Primary and secondary school. They find it hard to open up, to believe that they can really do and think anything in their creative sessions. To believe that it’s OK, if a thought or an idea seems stupid, bizarre. But little by little, I see them liking this fresh approach to learning. This openness. And I find at the end that they are truly very creative and come up with some really great ideas.

I have not been able to find out anything about France’s level of creativity, but perhaps there is a thing or two we can learn from this article:

That creativity is becoming more and more important, and children need to incorporate this into their daily learning.

That curriculums are becoming more about “learning for testing” as opposed to true learning.

That art, music and general culture are taking a real “back seat” in Primary schools in France. A tragedy! In my daughter’s last school, the only 1 hour art class she had each week was cancelled, due to the fact that another course had run over, needed more work etc. She was always disappointed.

So, how can we bring more creativity into the Primary school years in France, these are the years when children either begin to love or hate schoolwork…let’s make sure that they love it!


  1. The US news is as unsurprising as it is frightening. I remember last year being both dismayed at the lack of creativity and engagement of a group of design degree students and inspired by the energy and motivation of a group of 10-year olds working on a Hockney-inspired multiple canvas artwork in a primary school. I would have been genuinely happy to have swapped students (although the primary school would never have accepted mine). The apparent aim in recent years (not just in the UK it would seem) of erasing natural creativity in favour of creating a nation of test-passing dullards must be reversed. Creativity is essential for the sustainability of every profession, every life – not just ‘artists’. Building creativity into ALL education should be a top priority, before another generation of minds is lost to worthless box-ticking.

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